Guest blogger Lucy Hayward – Are looks really that important?

FlipLucy1When it comes to the presentation of your workshops and the flip charts you design, then my answer is a
big fat YES!!!

I love being creative and designing flip charts is one of my favourite bits of putting together the finishing touches of a new training event; so as I set about designing my visuals for my new “Coaching for Leaders” workshop I thought I’d take the time to share some of them with you and a few hints and tips I’ve picked up (borrowed/stolen) along the way.

Keen Follower of Accelerated Learning

As a keen follower of accelerated learning principles I understand the impact the environment can have on the learners. The last thing I want to do is freak people out with a boring, grey, blank walled classroom that evokes memories of school and for some people it can act as a barrier for getting to know each other, for feeling welcome and for engaging with the workshop.

In the preparation phase of The Accelerated Learning Handbook, Dave Meier talks about creating a positive physical, social and emotional environment and how decorating the learning environment with colourful peripherals relevant to the topic can stimulate the learners interest and encourage engagement and curiosity. So I like to pre-prepare all my flip charts (see pics below) and put them up around the room; as delegates enter the workshop they are greeted with a “Welcome” sign and have plenty of opportunity to move around looking at the visuals and discussing them with others. This way they get a feel for the interactive and social tone of the workshop, a glimpse at some of the topics we’re going to cover to put them at ease and even a sneaky peek at some of the answers!

Hints and tips

So if you’re curious to see the impact this can have on your learners in future workshops and fancy ditching the projector and spicing up your flip charts here’s a few hints and tips to get you started:

  • Borders – simple, very effective and you don’t have to be an artist to get it right! There’s so many you can choose from, squiggly lines, arrows, picture frame, note book, double/single lines, computer screens…. and the best bit about borders is they only takes 2 minutes!
  • Icons and shapes– are a great way of making bullet points more exciting, they can also be added into the borders to outline the title or emphasise a key point. If you want to be really clever you could try using icons that match your subject; so if you are facilitating a time management workshop you could draw mini clocks in the corner of each flip chart!
  • Colours – I love using colour! The Big Book of Flip Charts by Robert William Lucas talks about
    enhancing your visual messages with colour and how the appropriate use of colour can connect key subjects and guide learners through a page of information. It does warn you not to use more than 3 at any time otherwise the flip chart can appear too busy and cause confusion. (Look out for the scented pens to double up on sensory stimulation, the fruit ones are lush!)
  • The 6 to 8 rule* – Research into neuroscience tells us that the brain can only retain 7 (+ or – 2) pieces of information in the short term memory. So don’t overload your flip charts with text, try and keep to a maximum of 6-8 lines with plenty of space. It looks much better, is clearer and easier to read and also ensures the learners are listening and not just reading.
  • Correcting mistakes – I picked up a wonderful tip from recently; she said when you make a mistake rather than throwing away your flip chart and starting again or scribbling out mistakes, just cut out a small section of paper from another sheet and stick it over the top! Magic! Another one to try is covering up the mistake with sticky address labels, though they’re not exactly the same colour so you may prefer not to. (Can you spot my cover up job in the pics below??)

Here’s a few examples of my latest flip-charts, showing you a variety of borders, icons and colours. Feel free to copy/steal/borrow mine or have fun designing your own…

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Lucy is a valued team member at How to Accelerate Learning but also runs her own consultancy in West Yorkshire. She specialises in delivering focussed programmes, designed using accelerated learning principles and using the Learning Loop Approach. Her areas of expertise are: leadership, emotional intelligence, time management and coaching.

How does your training make people feel?

IMG_1415Maya Angelou, author and poet said “I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.”
This is very interesting, because last week I was flying the flag for a great UK company, Pearlcatchers, in the States, delivering a “Blended Learning Facilitator” programme – they even got to play a little  of the Learning Loop too! I cannot tell you the name of the company, but they are a heavy engineering company and this was a programme to help bring blended learning to their facilitators (technical experts) for their salesforce. They are the only company amongst their competitors who are choosing to do things so differently and Pearlcatchers always do things differently, which is why I love working with them.
The workshop this week, was the first of three I will be delivering in different regions. We covered the “7 Deadly sins of Training” and counteracted them with the “7 Pearls of Wisdom” as well as the basics of Fusion Learning – a holistic approach to delivering learning. We discussed and experienced the 4 phases of the learning cycle – analysis, design, delivery and evaluation was well as exploring the “5 secrets of Accelerated learning”. One of these “secrets” is about creating the right environment for learning (if you want to hear more, then a podcast on the Trainer Tools website might help). This is something that has been fascinating me for a while – how setting up the right environment (physical, emotional and social) can make a huge difference to the learning experience.
As they walked into the classroom, set up with bright posters, review activities (from the learning they had in the webinars), they were encouraged to introduce themselves to each other, to explore the resources and check out the posters (some of the answers in the game were in these posters!) Some people seemed genuinely excited, some seemed curious (I always love that!) and some admitted (later) that they were uncomfortable and skeptical!
The “proof of the pudding is in the eating” is a great saying and as the days unfolded and they “experienced”  how different learning could feel, I could feel a shift and a growing excitement. When reflecting on what they had learned most of the comments were around how different things felt, how engaging it was and how they had not been bored for one minute. All great things….. but would the skeptics be won over?
The smiles grew more frequent, the “aha” moments flowed and one by one as they delivered their sessions, I could see the impact of what they had learnt in what they were now facilitating. They were thinking about the needs of their learners, what stage and state they might be in and the sessions were more about making learning easy than “telling”. What of the skeptics – well these were originally the “Snipers” from the Stakeholder Analysis grid and now they are the “Evangelists“. I have two great testimonials from them speaking of how they felt originally and how they feel now…. what struck me most, was that they learnt most from what we did and they experienced. The environment that was set up and experiencing how learning can be more natural impacted them immensely. They laughed when I asked them if anyone had been taught to walk by their mothers using PowerPoint and then saw the irony in what is so common in the way organisations train in their training rooms.
I am an evangelist for accelerated learning and anything else which helps to make learning faster, more efficient and more sticky, but many objections to using some of the techniques, start with “it’s ok for soft skills …. but not for technical or content heavy training…” I would strongly disagree and you cannot get more technical or heavy than the learning these guys have to deliver. The creativity, excitement and inspirational sessions I witnessed last week have warmed the cockles of my heart and as I am packing my bag and reminiscing about how these people felt ….. I feel it is a job well done….. thanks Pearlcatchers for trusting me with your client….. I loved every minute of it!!! Lets keep making people feel differently about learning.

Rich and layered as any good chocolate cake should be

IMG_1363Imagine this; eating a wonderful chocolate cake. Sumptuous light sponge, with melt-in-the-mouth ganache and a sprinkle of  bitter dark chocolate curls……..every woman’s dream cake…..but wait this is not a cookery blog! We are talking about training environments here…

So how does your training environment compare? Is it:

  • A dropped scone – always consistent but flat and bland?
  • A ginger cake – a hint of spice, but nothing to blow your socks off?
  • A meringue – full of promise, sweet, but not fulfilling?

I love it when someone walks into my training room, there is that pause, when they look around and sometimes they say the “Wow!” out loud. This is when I know that I have their attention. We are all playful by nature and the promise of play releases dopamine into our bloodstream, this has the effect of engaging us and getting our attention.

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So I would describe my training rooms as playful, appealing to something deep within us. Not childish but evoking that childlike curiosity and playfulness.

Once we have our learners attention,when they walk into the room – where will we take them? How will we draw them in and arouse they curiosity?  The environment is richly layered (more chocolate torte than fruit cake) and starts way before they have entered the room. You can start with understanding the needs of the learners and seeing how the learning can be tailored to fit those needs. You can also accommodate their needs in the design of activities and room layout. This is not one-size fits all approach, if you truly want your learners to be at their best.

In short, attending to the environment and considering how people learn can prepare them to learn. If your learners are not engaged then the experience will not yield the results you all desire. If you would like to know more about how to creat e great learning environment while achieving your business results, then why not come on the The Learning Loop® or attend one of our Showcase Events? Here is a short video of the last Showcase Event “LNA – what your mother never told you”.

Walking the wire…..

I recently saw “The Walk”, the story of Philippe Petit and his high wire walk between the Twin Towers in 1974. What really struck me was, when Philippe Petit learned to walk a wire, he started off with six wires strung parallel and as his confidence and competence increased he removed one wire until just one wire remained. He could then move the wire higher and higher up as his technique and confidence improved. Secondly, his teacher did not stand over him but directed him as to how to learn for himself.
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Reflecting on this film and how it relates to The Learning Loop® , I have found that groups of learners work best when they do not face the front of a classroom but learn  in a variety of ways; for themselves, from each other, from activities and from the facilitator even. This is the way that The Learning Loop® is facilitated. It does not simply “happen” but comes about through understanding four main variables that affect classroom learning. Understanding these will mean that the learners will be comfortable and at their best.IMG_5682

  • The environment – without a good environment you will severely limit the ability of the group to interact. This means that the choice of location and room set-up can help ensure that the group are ready to learn. The learners must also feel comfortable and “safe” to learn. You can help set up the right environment before they even come into the room through preparatory work and emails.(…….but that is another blog)
  • The balance of each group – without good balance there can be a tendency of one person to dominate a group so an idea of the attendees and their experience should be gained before an event.
  • How individuals and groups experience the learning – understanding the amount of knowledge that the groups already possess and be sensitive to that. Allow those with some knowledge to have a voice and share that knowledge.
  • Importantly – the way in which the learning is directed. This not only includes the task at hand (what is being learned) but how you facilitate that balance between self direction and facilitation.
So if you want to ensure that people learn well; not only do you have to set the learning environment up well but you need to understand how the environment affects group learning.

Why melt the ice, when there is none?

IMG_0224So please tell me, how many times have you had folk round to dinner and started with an ice-breaker to see who can make a piece of paper travel furthest or to see if they can form human pyramids? Have you had your family round and then paused once everyone arrived and asked them to disclose 2 secrets and a lie about themselves? You just wouldn’t do it would you?

There are scholarly articles on ice-breakers and whole books on ice-breakers but I’d like us to stop and ask, in a training environment,  if they are even necessary most of the time? When you invite guests into your home, most times they should already know each other or at least know you. If not, you can get people to introduce you, or you can introduce people to each other. Same goes for a training session.

These days my preference is to do the following:

  • In the joining instructions get people to fill out a template about themselves
  • When they walk in, introduce people and ask them to put up their introduction on the wall
  • Invite people to add their personal objectives to a flipchart and look at the resources you have brought and any posters. You can even have an activity where they need to find some answers from each other or from the resources
  • Introduce anyone standing around on their own

Ice-breakers can break down barriers, but inappropriate ones can raise them, and you certainly would not stop communication in a group that knows already knows each other or is getting along famously and say “Right, lets do an ice-breaker…”. For some people it might imply that there is something wrong in the group that needs fixing.

So my number one choice of ice-breaker for a reasonable sized group (up to 30?)would be no ice-breaker at all.

If you have set up your training room properly so that it is inviting and non-threatening, have communicated with people beforehand to ensure that they fully understand what they will be doing and why, then the need for any form of ice breaker is debateable. What do you think?

Creating a stimulating learning environment

It was a sunny March morning in Leeds and I met with a group of 9 trainers in the coffee area at Hinsley Hall. There was an air of anticipation; trainers who had never met each other were nervously introducing themselves. They were about to begin a full 2-day workshop on Accelerated Learning. I slowly walked them down the corridor and into the classroom. “WOW!” said Becky Perkins, a trainer from Royal London Insurance. Watch the video below to get some ideas from an interview with Becky.
[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-tpm4t8sf-o&w=420&h=315]
Now, let me share with you, some of the reasons why the environment is important and how you can make your classroom sparkle, so that your learners can say “WOW!” too!

Since I began to study accelerated learning, I have had many light bulb moments, the most significant one being that I as facilitator need to inspire people to learn, more than to be an expert in the field I am training in. This has led me to many more light-bulb moments, including the idea that people become more creative in a stimulating environment. If the environment is always the same, then people will always stick to the same patterns of thinking.

When Becky walked in she saw posters, pictures, toys on the tables as well as sweets and fruit. For her, the way the classroom was set out, impacted the whole learning experience.

“So how can I, with my non-existent budget, make it a stimulating environment for my learners?” I can hear you say. Well let’s not beat about the bush, your time is precious, so here are few low cost ways to make your classroom sparkle!

  • Use flipchart paper, taped together to create a tablecloth (or buy cheap paper tablecloths) – these can be used for reviews or “what do you know already” sessions.
  • Put borders (in marker) around your flipcharts and use a variety of colours –it is amazing how effective this is!
  • Buy some coloured pipe cleaners (I have found packs for £1:50!) to scatter on the tables; people love to fiddle with them
  • Fix 4 pieces of flipchart together on the wall and make a collage with the group, using old magazines. The theme could be “Where are we now … and where would you like to be?” or just get them to find pictures to represent what they already know about the subject. You can use this to weave in your own thoughts
  • Make some laminates of processes or diagrams that they can fiddle with and put them on the tables
  • Use some quiet classical music to create a calm atmosphere; I use an old Pringles can as a speaker!
  • Ask people to bring in “brain friendly” snacks to share – fruit, nuts, water and anything else

Recently I have been delivering some talks at CIPD branch meetings on the 5 secrets of accelerated learning. here are some of the ideas that the participants came up with to make their  classrooms sparkle: Ways to make your classroom sparkle #3

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